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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1835

Vol. I
p597
803

(Born Ky.)

Montgomery Blair

(Ap'd Ky.)

18

Born May 10, 1813, Franklin County, KY.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1831, to July 1, 1835, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., 4th Artillery, July 1, 1835.

Transferred to 2d Artillery, Aug. 14, 1835.

Served in the Florida War against the Seminole Indians, 1836.

Resigned, May 20, 1836.

Civil History. — Counselor at Law, St. Louis, Mo., 1839‑43. U. S. Attorney for the District of Missouri, 1839‑43. Captain, Missouri Militia, 1842‑43. Judge of St. Louis, Mo., Court of Common Pleas, 1843‑49. Solicitor of the United States in the Court of Claims, Mar. 3, 1855, to May, 1858. Counselor at Law, Montgomery County, Md., 1853‑61. President of the Republican Convention of the State of Maryland, 1860. Postmaster-General of the United States, Mar. 4, 1861, to Sep. 23, 1864. Counselor at Law, Montgomery County, Md., 1863‑83. Lay Delegate, from Maryland, to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in New York city, 1874. Member of the Legislature of the State of Maryland, 1877‑78.

Died, July 27, 1883, at Silver Springs, Md.: Aged 70.

Buried, Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC.

Biographical Sketch.

Judge Montgomery Blair was born, May 10, 1813, in Franklin County, Ky., and died, July 27, 1883, at Silver Spring, Md., near Washington City. He was the son of the noted politician, Francis P. Blair, who attracted the attention, in 1829, of General Jackson, by an article published in a Kentucky newspaper against nullification. Thereupon Blair was invited to establish the "Washington Globe," the able organ of the successive administrations from 1830 to 1845, and the oracle of the Democratic party. Francis P. Blair, Jr. (the brother of Montgomery), was widely known as one of the earliest Free-Soil Republicans, became a volunteer General in the War of the Rebellion, was the Democratic candidate for Vice-President of the United States in 1868, and was elected U. S. Senator from Missouri in 1871.

p598 Montgomery Blair, at the age of eighteen, entered the Military Academy, from which he was graduated, July 1, 1835, in the same class with Generals Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Morell, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Martindale, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Meade, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Professor Kendrick and other men of mark. After less than a year's service in the Florida War as a Lieutenant of Artillery, he resigned from the Army, May 20, 1836.

Soon after he studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1839, and in the same year was appointed United States District Attorney for Missouri. In 1842 he was elected Mayor of St. Louis, and the following year became Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and retained the position till 1849, when he resigned.

For family reasons he removed, in 1852, from Missouri to Maryland, where he practiced his profession with decided success, and with such increasing reputation that he was employed as plaintiff's counsel in the famous Dred Scott case, and on other important trials before the United States Supreme Court. President Pierce appointed him, Mar. 3, 1855, Solicitor of the United States in the Court of Claims, from which office he was removed in 1858 by President Buchanan, because of Blair's affiliation with the Republican party.

From his father Blair inherited an entire and unswerving faith in the doctrines of Thomas Jefferson; he maintained that the founders of the constitution inculcated the two fundamental principles, — inviolability of the Union and the abolition of slavery; he contended that the entire South held these cardinal tenets till the cotton crops made negro labor an essentiality; and he believed that with the evolution of this new and pernicious theory came the determination to maintain slavery and extend it to new territory, failing which secession from the free States was the South's fixed purpose.

With the same intensity as the elder Blair had battled against nullification, the son, upon the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, made his firm stand against the extension of slavery. Unhesitatingly he changed his political allegiance; in 1860 presided over the Maryland Republican Convention; and, at the subsequent election for President, was a Republican Elector.

When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President, in 1861, he determined to offer Blair the War Portfolio. This arrangement was subsequently altered, Cameron becoming the Secretary of War and Blair Postmaster-General. His administration of the Post Office Department was remarkably vigorous and effective. Among Blair's earliest acts was an order issued in August, 1861 to the Postmaster of New York city, directing that none of the newspapers which had lately been presented to the Grand Jury of that city as dangerous for their disloyal sentiments should be forwarded in the mails. This summary action attracted much attention, and at length was brought before Congress. The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, in January, 1863, made a report that they believed the act of the Postmaster-General to be "not only within the scope of his powers, but induced solely by considerations of public good."

Blair effected great improvements in the postal service. In the Southern States it had never been self-sustaining; hence, so soon as this dead weight was removed by the war, the Post Office Department became prosperous and remunerative. Blair at once planned and executed many radical changes. The first of these was one uniform postage, which has been such a universal convenience. Then followed the free delivery system in cities, a great accommodation to the public and a large source of revenue to the government; the beneficial money-order scheme, which has removed the temptation to robbing letters containing bank bills, and the postal-car service, designed to be so extended as, with the letter carriers, to almost obviate the necessity for city post offices.

p599 When he died, the Postmaster-General, to mark his appreciation of his distinguished predecessor, issued the following order: "As a mark of respect to the late Montgomery Blair, ex‑Postmaster-General, it is hereby directed that the Post Office Department be closed on Monday, July 30, the day of his funeral. The building will be draped for the period of thirty days; the flag placed at half-staff until after the funeral."

In September, 1864, Blair left the Cabinet to satisfy a very general demand on the part of the radical leaders of the Republican party who opposed Lincoln's re-election, being dissatisfied with the President's extreme conservatism.

From that time Blair devoted himself to his law practice and took no part in politics, save in the winter following President Hayes' inauguration, when, as a member of the Maryland Legislature, he endeavored to set on foot a movement in Mr. Tilden's behalf to test the President's right to his seat. It proved an utter failure; but Blair, nevertheless, acted in good faith, from a high sense of duty, and with a firm conviction of the justice of his course.

What he thought of his own political attitude is shown in the following letter which he addressed to the editor of a Western paper: "Having stood alone in Lincoln's Cabinet for the Union in my refusal to hold that place if the flag of the Union was hauled down, and Fort Sumter given up to the rebels, and again opposing the reconstruction policy, for which I was driven out of the Cabinet, having after the war been the first to denounce the proscription of white people by test oaths, and leading the movement which removed that proscription in Maryland, and being in return disfranchised myself by the Democratic leaders to whom I had restored the right of suffrage, without being disheartened or faltering in my opposition to Radicalism, and having been down here last winter to sound the sell-out of Tilden by certain of the Democratic leaders in the interest of the great corporate jobbing interests which still dominate the country, I have been schooled to meet the denunciation and ridicule with which those interests and their press have treated my effort to bring this fraud to judicial exposure and strip them of the fruits of it."

Blair was now as pronounced a Democrat as before he had been a radical Republican. Right or wrong, and utterly regardless of his own political success, on all great questions he took sides with courage and even audacity, never waiting any other leadership than his own honest convictions. He never dreaded being in the minority, but rather, like the stormy petrel, enjoyed being the harbinger of the political tempest. His own independent thought, however great the apparent inconsistency, always decided his course. Born in a slave State, a Jeffersonian Democrat, and while of that party enjoying the lucrative position of Solicitor of the United States Court of Claims, he did not hesitate to cast off party trammels and throw away a good office in order that he might signify his disapprobation of the "infamous Missouri Compromise." In like manner, after being the plaintiff's counsel in the Dred Scott case, he denounced the Lecompton Constitution of Kansas, stigmatized President Buchanan's management as semi-treasonable, and, in 1860, presided over a State Convention of Republicans in slave-holding Maryland. From this stand of ultra Republicanism he again fell into the arms of Democracy, because of his sincere belief in the folly of the extreme Republican reconstruction measures after all resistance to Federal authority had ceased in the Southern States, and their acts of secession had become nullities. Justus et tenax propositi, he preferred to be called an apostate rather than act the trimmer.

Living and sharing in so many important political public crises, Judge Blair could have made valuable contributions to his country's history; but, except as editor of the "Union" newspaper, he wrote little, save p600some concise and masterly articles, among which were a series of replies to criticisms on his famous campaign speech; the defense of his brother Frank against General Sherman's Memoirs; an attack upon Southern jobbers; a long paper in the "North American Review" upon negro suffrage; another opposing the bill to reopen the Tilden-Hayes Presidential question, and some minor contributions of his steel-pointed pen.

To the elder Blair President Jackson left many valuable private papers and public documents from which to prepare a biography of "Old Hickory." These, and a large collection of letters and manuscripts concerning the stirring times in which the father himself had lived, were transmitted to his son, who never found time to utilize them, or even to profit by the voluminous memoranda growing out of his own connection with national affairs. Probably he was fully conscious of his uncompromising and dogmatic temper, so ill suited to the dispassionate discussion of the great events which transpired while he sat in President Lincoln's Cabinet, where he was ever the decided advocate of the most stringent measures to put down the rebellion. Any compromise to surrender Fort Sumter he deemed treason, and had he been President Lincoln's Secretary of War he would have arrested Lee and all other rebel army leaders whenever they tendered their resignation from the service of the United States.

Stern and resolute in public position, he appeared to the outside world to be a vacillating politician, but in reality was no Vicar of Bray. He much preferred to be on the losing side than to be derelict to his principles or faithless in his devotion to truth. Honor and integrity were his invariable guides. Had he been simply ambitious of a successful career, he would have continued a Democrat in order to retain his office of United States Solicitor; and had he subsequently remained a Republican he might have been the U. S. Senator from Maryland. In that body he could have taken a high stand, for he was a ready, well-informed, and fearless debater, and, as an acute analyzer of the motives of men, would have been unsparing in the dissection of politicians and their acts, not excepting those of his former associates in the Cabinet, particularly Seward and Stanton, who were no favorites of his, he believing the latter to have been a greatly over-rated Secretary, whose fame was built up at the expense of his more daring and intelligent subordinates. Blair, however, would never have been a popular favorite, for the elements of his character were so mixed that his worse would often quarrel with his better parts. He was able, instructed, combative, dogmatic, self-reliant, strong-willed, incisive in expression, just in thought, possessed immense energy, had large business capacity, and, though sometimes vehement, was always the true gentleman.

Blair, in private life, was simple in his habits, unobtrusive in his manners, and of great kindness of heart. His tall, thin figure, large intellectual head, and winning, merry smile were known of every one in Washington; and at his beautiful country home, surrounded with flowering gardens, cultivated fields, and broad pastures populated with choice cattle, he was the centre and magnet of everything. He was truly lovable, benevolent, and just. His moral qualities were even greater than his intellectual. "Any notice of Montgomery Blair's career," says a friend writing to me, "would be incomplete which did not refer to his earnest Christian character and his devotion to the Episcopal Church. He was for a dozen years or more a delegate from Grace Church, Silver Spring, Montgomery County, Md., to the annual convention of the Diocese of Maryland. He was always attentive, punctual, and alert during its proceedings, being especially desirous to sustain the late Bishop Pinkney in his rulings adverse to the Ritualists in said Convention. There was a warm personal friendship between him and Bishop Pinkney. It is believed p601that to his vigilance and ready logic was due the unvarying and prompt action of the Convention, year after year, in support of that lamented Bishop, who died but two weeks before the death of Judge Blair."

Another enthusiastic admirer of him says: "The moral purity and symmetry of Judge Blair's character, its wisdom and serenity, shed a beneficent light upon every human soul with whom he came in contact. No one could hold intercourse with him without going away stronger and better for the experience. Into how many hearts he suffused some share of his own earnest, virtuous nature can never be told. But each and all will transmit the impulse to numbers more, and so, for generations yet to come, his mighty spirit shall walk the earth and bless it."


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Page updated: 19 Feb 13